After decades working in music retail and gaining experience of the wine industry, Steve Tattam combined his profession and his passion with the launch of Winyl. Christopher Barrett samples what’s in store…
Located in England’s smallest town, Manningtree, on the River Stour in north Essex, the suitably diminutive Winyl has proven a big hit with locals since it was launched in October 2018 by former Virgin and Our Price employee Steve Tattam.
As the name suggests, Winyl is a cunning combination of its founder’s greatest pleasures; vinyl and wine. Selling a selection of vegan and organic wine and craft beer, alongside a handpicked range of new and second-hand vinyl, Tattam encourages visitors to enjoy a beverage or two while playing records on the store’s Audio-Technica deck.
Winyl hosts a monthly Singles Club, where participants are encouraged to bring their own records along to play and discuss in the shop. Tattam admits the club nights have included some confused participants who take a little while to realise they are more likely to find an album by Love than romance in the shop.
Winyl also hosts a Songwriting Circle that sees local musicians and any other interested parties turn up and jam in the store. Such has been the success of this unique little shop that it is already drawing visitors from outside the area, while its reputation saw Winyl become one of only two record shops to be shortlisted for the Indie Retail Best Small Shop awards at the House Of Commons last year.
Winyl is no part-time hobby for Tattam either, the store is a carefully crafted concept, the culmination of 20 years in music retailing and a period specialising in duty free wine. After an unsatisfying stretch working in the corporate veterinary business, Tattam knew it was time to make a change. He says: “I had had a few interviews in the corporate world and couldn’t feel it anymore; spending all of these hours doing it for someone else was exhausting. I thought, ‘I have worked for a long time for other people, let’s see what I can achieve for myself’.
“I had hit 50, and was sat at home having a glass of wine while thinking back to when I was at my happiest. I realised it was when I was working with records, before the job had become too management-led. So I came up with the idea of combining wine and vinyl. The name Winyl sprung to mind and I quickly went online to see if it had been taken. Luckily, it hadn’t.”
Having hooked up with some old contacts from his Virgin and Our Price days, Tattam set about finding a location for his shop.
“Manningtree hit a lot of right notes,” he recalls. “It has a mainline train station, so you are only an hour from London, and there is a really strong community here who get the concept. It is almost a suburb of London because so many people commute.
“We had a guy from BBC Essex in the other day for an interview and he said, ‘I would expect to see something like this in Shoreditch’.”
Being self-funded, Tattam appreciated the freedom that results from not being tied down to a bank loan or financier when he started the business, but it did restrict the kind of property he was able to acquire.
“When I first set this up, I would have liked to have a bigger shop,” he admits, “but it has worked out perfectly; it is not a big space, but it feels very intimate, and has become a real community hub.”
The store may be small, but it is big on comfort. With a choice of wine and beer that can be taken away or consumed on the premises, a decent sound system to try out records and no shortage of seating, it’s not easy to drag yourself away. Customers are encouraged to browse the records or just sit back, relax and have a drink. Ideally both. The welcoming atmosphere means people tend to linger, and Tattam admits enjoying a few glasses of wine or beer does tend to help open people’s wallets.
“Spending £20 on a record doesn’t seem that expensive, especially after buying a bottle of wine. We make sure the records are well protected and allow people to take drinks wherever they like in the store,” he says.
Winyl’s broad appeal means it is not unusual to see three generations of the same family. “We see a massive range of demographics and are dog-friendly. We don’t get an average customer; people who know their wine will come in and investigate, while others head straight for the vinyl.
“Something I hear over and over again from the older customers is that they are re-buying records they sold years ago.”
Launched shortly after Record Store Day last year, Winyl’s songwriting circle has proven very popular with local musicians, too. The aim is for participants to come in to the shop with a clean sheet and, collectively, write a brand new song within the two-hour timeframe.
A drummer himself, Tattam will often join in on the store’s cajón box drum if it’s not being used by a customer, while an acoustic guitar is also on hand. “We record it live at the end of the session and put it up on Instagram and Facebook,” he explains. “We have two regular musicians, and one of them has a recording studio that we have used to record two songs so far. The aim is to record an album’s worth of songs in the studio and release an LP later this year.”
Tattam made several useful contacts while booking bands to play at Winyl on Record Store Day last year, and since then the shop has regularly played host to shows by local acts.
“It was our first Record Store Day last year,” he says. “Someone had told me that Record Store Day isn’t worth it because it is a lot of investment, so I had my doubts, but it was huge. We did get stuck with around 100 records afterwards, that have been very hard to shift, and there is a lot of set-up and a lot of cost involved, but the day itself was incredible.”
Tattam arrived on Record Store Day 2019 at 6am, two hours before the store was due to open, to find a long queue of eager customers stretching around the corner.
He says: “We gave out free hot drinks and rolls, and ran a ticket entry system so the shop didn’t feel crowded. The aim was to make it a pleasant experience, not too crowded inside, and reward the people who got here first.
“There was a great atmosphere and people came out of the woodwork who had probably been saving all year for Record Store Day. We had a lot of first-time customers, who have since turned into regulars.”
Range and Depth
Winyl’s vinyl is presented in attractive reclaimed wood and upcycled scaffolding racks, and Tattam’s focus on eco-friendly materials means there is not a plastic cup or straw to be seen.
The range of records consists primarily of new releases and classic album reissues, with a limited selection of second-hand titles also available. Albums are priced from £2 upwards, but the vast majority are between £10 and £12.
“Someone looking for an original pressing may find it, but it is mostly reasonably priced playable stock; classic records from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when vinyl was at its peak and there were still good-quality pressings,” says Tattam.
Winyl’s selection of new-release stock is broad, too, but Tattam says the focus is primarily on indie and rock albums.
“The biggest-selling album for us last year was Nick Cave’s Ghosteen, but we have a smattering of everything, it is a very eclectic range. We stock the classic catalogue, a selection of dance and ambient electronica such as Floating Points, and we have boxes of jazz, country, blues and reggae LPs.
“A good number of customers order things in, usually leftfield indie releases. For instance, Stereolab’s catalogue is being reissued on clear vinyl and that is selling really well.”
Despite his decades in music retail, including numerous store manager roles at Virgin, Tattam admits to being prone to getting carried away when ordering stock.
“As a vinyl fan who runs a record store, when I am looking through these lists of all the great releases, I do get carried away and over order, which means I run out of space. It’s a matter of trying to make the small space work,” he says.
While Winyl does have a website that catalogues the shop’s records and wine, Tattam says it is used primarily to encourage people into the store rather than to sell vinyl. To encourage loyalty, Winyl offers a price-match guarantee. “I was shocked by how much HMV in Colchester were charging for vinyl,” he says. “I think it is really important to be reasonably priced, I don’t need to rip people off, I want them to be satisfied with the price and the whole experience.”